Around Seattle, 1995-1996

Some event, evidently at the waterfront, had brought Mark O'Connor to Seattle. Mark is a world-famous violinist who began his life and career in the Seattle area. Success took him to other areas, and he has continued to cement his reputation in both classical and popular styles of music. Melissa was a great fan, and here you see him entertaining questions from some local fans.

I'm writing this in 2014, and it's difficult to imagine how big a deal was Windows 95. The Windows 3.n series had made its mark, and converted most MS(PC)-DOS users to the new windowing operating system. But the roots of Windows were still firmly in that DOS code, and something needed to be done to accommodate the wonderful developments in the underlying hardware. Windows 95 was the beginning of that transition, and its biggest problem was dealing with non-Microsoft peripherals. The operating system normally does this by accepting a piece of software called a 'driver', which has to be written to comply with the operating system. The driver itself, of course, is written by (or for) the company producing the peripheral, because only that company can know both the details of the peripheral and also what it is intended to accomplish.

Windows 95 needed to make serious fundamental changes in the driver model. That meant that all companies making peripherals for Windows systems had to comply. In other words, they had to change their former coding practice to a new one. This is so, so much easier said than done.

I had been testing Microsoft operating systems informally for a few years, using my work environment as a platform. I had signed up for the same thing when Windows 95 was being readied, and my equipment caused enough problems that Microsoft sent an engineer to pick up my offending equipment at the office, on at least two occasions.

This sort of testing was more important than it had been for earlier systems. Microsoft had exhausted testing against known equipment (ie, what they had in their labs), and they needed to know what it would be like when the OS attempted to work "in the wild."

As a reward for this testing, a number of testers throughout the world were invited to a special event on the eve of the launch of Windows 95. You were responsible for your own travel and accommodations, but once you reached the special event, all would be taken care of. I remember folks from Israel, and I presume that others were from other parts of Europe. In those days, the Asian markets were dealt with later than the Western ones, so there might not have been testers from Asia.

The special event involved the renting of Union Station, a now private facility that had been involved with the train traffic of Seattle. I think that Paul Allen might have owned it then, if he doesn't still. The theme was gambling. A group of gambling volunteers (I know, it sounds crazy) hosted all sorts of games you would only find in Vegas, and fake money—handed to you upon entrance—was used to keep you from exhausting your own supply of real stuff.

The invitation—required for admission—had been issued with instructions that appeared to exclude any guests. This was confirmed as we stood in line. I was with Melissa, a retired Microsoft employee, as we had decided not to interpret the instructions too literally. The couple in front of us was denied admission, as only the male had been a selected tester. I felt so sorry for them, as they walked off to find something else to do in Seattle.

We stepped up, submitted our ticket for one admission, and started to listen to the same spiel the previous couple had heard before their rejection. Melissa stopped this speech, and asked to see a manager. Somewhat confused, the poor attendant did so summon her manager, and Melissa explained that she was a former employee. Said manager took us aside to hear the whole story, and then she said, "OK, but don't tell a single soul. Here's some money. Go have a good time."

I'm not a party person, but I recall the evening fondly. Once, I went off to the bathroom and discovered that during my absence, someone had been by our table soliciting volunteers for the next day's launch. The affair was to be led by Jay Leno, and at some point he would look out into the audience in that first tent and choose someone to come up and install Windows 95 on a Windows 3.1 machine, just to show how easy it could be. Melissa had volunteered me. At the very least, I would be sitting in the first tent (everyone else would be watching on those huge TV screens that are now so common). At most (I preferred to think "worst"), I would have go up with Jay and do what I had done a few hundred times on my own equipment.

The next day, my new special pass put me in a special section along an aisle. Jay was under instructions to choose someone from an aisle seat. When it came time to do so, he pointed at me. My heart sank. But as the attendant came to escort me to the stage, the guy in front of me leaped to his feet: "Yes!!!!" he screamed. He had created a piece of clothing out of used CDs (I doubt that any serious tester had fewer than a hundred of these failed versions of Windows under development), and he was certain that it was so compelling that Jay had had to pick him. This was, be assured, completely fine with me. My part was over, I had a great seat, and no more anxiety.

My favorite moment from that event was when Bill Gates spoke. He opened a huge curtain to reveal the development team sitting on bleachers just outside the tent. He thanked the team for its work, and then said "If any of the code on which you've worked so hard these past months is still in Windows five years from now, we will have failed." Wow. I wasn't coding, myself, at that time, and wouldn't realize how true this was until I did code. But that was quite a dampening statement to make at such a moment.

A small carnival had been set up for visitors after the presentation, and you see some of that in my pictures. A lovely day in Seattle, and I'd had a great time for those two busy days.

1996-1997: Fixing to leave Seattle

Two aspects of leaving Seattle involved saying goodbye to friends and fixing the house for sale.

I had worked at Revelation Technologies in the early 1990s and there made some friends and acquaintances. Evidently, so did others, as many of the former employees continued to meet every week for lunch at a location convenient to those still working on the east side. One day, Melissa and I joined this little party.

Penny was my real estate agent. She lived in the neighborhood. I knew I had to finish some things on the house before it could be sold, but I had no idea how many things. Nearly every week I would inform Penny that I was done, and she would inform me that I wasn't. Evidently, she got tired to doing this, and by some time in October the house was put on sale. One requirement of the buyer was that a qualified electrician inspect the wiring and make any necessary fixes. I actually enjoyed this step, and bought lunch for Steve and his helper son a few times. They did a great job, and the house was turned over in fine shape to Jody, who I'm delighted to report still lives in the house nearly 20 years later.

A final adventure just as we left was the business visit of Laurence Yep to the area as part of his speaking at bookstores upon the publishing of his latest book. We made a surprise visit to the bookstore and got to see my long-time writing friend ply his trade.